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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   {85
looked at himself more often in the mirror, sometimes
from a distance, with a running, superficial glance, and
sometimes, bringing his face almost up against the glass,
he would massage his scarred and pitted face for hours.
At his request, Klavdia Mikhailovna bought him some
face powder and cream, but he soon saw that no cosmetics
would conceal his scars. At night, however, when every-
body was asleep, he would steal to the toilet and stay
there a long time massaging the scars, powdering them
and massaging them again, and then look hopefully into
the mirror. From a distance he looked a splendid fellow:
a sturdy figure, broad shoulders and narrow waist, set on
straight, sinewy legs. But close up! The sight of the red
scars on his cheeks and chin and the drawn, ribbed skin
drove him to despair. "What will she think when she
sees it?" he asked himself. She would be terrified. She
would look at him, turn away and walk off with a shrug
of her shoulders. Or what would be worse, she would
talk to him for an hour or so out of politeness, then say
something official and cold and—good-bye! He grew pale
with anger, as if that had already happened.
Then he would draw a photograph from the pocket of
his gown and critically examine the features of a round-
faced girl with soft, thin but fluffy hair combed back over
a high forehead, a blunt, upturned, truly Russian nose
and tender, childish lips. On the upper lip there was a
barely perceptible mole. From this guileless, sweet face a
pair of grey, or perhaps blue, eyes, slightly bulging, gazed
at him honestly and frankly.
"Tell me, what are you like? Will you be frightened?
Will you run away? Will you have heart enough not to
see what a monster I am?" he would ask, gazing intently
at the photograph.
Meanwhile, with tapping crutches and creaking leath-
er, Senior Lieutenant Meresyev passed him, tirelessly
hobbling up and down the corridor—once, twice, ten
times, twenty times. He did this every morning and
evening, according to a programme he had set himself,
increasing the length of the exercise every day.
"He's a fine chap!" commented Gvozdev to himself.
"A real sticker. Pluck isn't the word for it. Learnt to
walk on crutches in a week! Some take months. Yesterday